The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith

The First Person and Other Stories review

The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith
Penguin, 2009

I wrote in my review of Ali Smith’s How to be both that her work had been something I’d been meaning to explore for a while and I spoke about how much I enjoyed her short story Writ. I decided it was time I finally explored some of Smith’s short stories and so ordered the collection where Writ appears, The First Person and Other Stories, from the library.

The collection works well as a whole; all of the stories are original, bold, creative and playful. Many of the stories have an element of the unexpected lurking behind the seemingly mundane. Smith’s pared down writing style works well to deliver this – it almost makes the stories more shocking and unexpected. I found it was best to read each story separately rather than a number at a time so I continued to be surprised. The stories are thought-provoking and, after reading many of them, I felt I needed to really consider them in order to fully understand their meaning. If I’m honest, there are a few which I’m still not clear about but it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Out of the twelve stories in this collection, there are four which are my favourites. The first, True Short Story, is a meditation on the short story and about women finding their voices. The title also made me question fiction v. reality – is Smith signalling that the story’s events really happened? Or is she saying that this story is a true short story, that this is how a short story should be?

The Child wasn’t a favourite when I read it, but it’s the one which has stayed with me the most. I mentioned above how each story had an element of the unexpected and this story’s unexpectedness made it more shocking, and is probably why it’s stayed with me. I don’t want to say too much more so it doesn’t reduce its impact for those who haven’t read it, but I’ll say that The Child is a startlingly original story.

The Second Person is part of a trilogy of stories in this collection (each respectively named The Third Person, The Second Person, and The First Person) which each play with the various tenses after which they are named. The Second Person stood out to me because of the excellent, sharp dialogue; The First Person ends the collection on a touching and poignant note with a story about loves which have gone before.

On the whole, I enjoyed this collection. There were a few stories which stood out to me, others which I struggled to understand, and those which didn’t make an impact on me. But overall, it’s an original and thought-provoking read.

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7 thoughts on “The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith

  1. I’m quite interested in this collection as I’ve loved Ali Smith’s novels (certainly the ones I’ve read so far) but I’ve yet to read any of her short stories. She is a playful writer, definitely, and I recognise that element of the unexpected lurking beneath the seemingly mundane from her novels. I hope to start How to be Both in the not too distant future. Did you prefer it to her short stories or were they equally enjoyable?

    • I enjoyed How to be both and this collection of short stories, but I’d say I probably enjoyed How to be both more – I love what Smith did with the concept, and I thought it was such a clever novel. But I’m definitely going to try and read more of her short stories!

  2. I had never heard of Ali Smith until this year – I know, I feel awful – but she is one of the most beloved authors out there right now. I’ve been looking for a collection of short stories of lately, and I really like what you say about this: ‘Many of the stories have an element of the unexpected lurking behind the seemingly mundane’, because it appeals to the crime fiction lover in me. Adding it to my wishtlist right now! Thanks 🙂

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